The US on Tuesday formally recognized Syria’s newly formed opposition coalition as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people, hours after France became the first Western country to do so.

The US “congratulates the representatives of the Syrian people on the formation of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces,” said State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner in a statement.

The US would support the new group “as it charts a course toward the end of Assad’s bloody rule and the start of the peaceful, just, democratic future,” Toner added. “We will work with the National Coalition to ensure that our humanitarian and non-lethal assistance serves the needs of the Syrian people.”

However, the US policy of providing only humanitarian aid and other non-lethal support to the rebels remained as it had been, Toner noted.

The French move was announced by President Francois Hollande.

“I announce here that France recognizes the National Syrian Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people and, therefore, as the future provisional government of democratic Syria,” Hollande said.

France has acknowledged providing communications and other non-lethal equipment to the Syrian rebels. It has been a leader in pressing for a tough UN Security Council resolution on Syria, but it has been blocked by Russia and China.

The French position appeared to break with the overall European stance.

British Foreign Minister William Hague, speaking to the Arab League in Cairo on Tuesday, said the opposition coalition must gain support from within Syria.

“That is a very crucial consideration, and if they do these things, well then, yes, we would then be able to recognize them as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people,” he said.

A joint statement by the Arab League and the European Union said the two sides welcome the agreement reached in Doha by the Syrian opposition, which is seen as an “important step” in forming a widely representative opposition group.

On Monday, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council recognized the new broad-based Syrian opposition group as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, the first formal endorsement of the opposition group that seeks to topple President Bashar Assad.

Under intense international pressure to form an opposition that includes representatives from the country’s disparate factions that are fighting to topple Assad, the anti-government groups struck a deal Sunday in Doha, Qatar, to form a coalition headed by former Muslim preacher Mouaz al-Khatib.

The coalition includes representatives from the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, which was harshly criticized by many — including US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — for being cut off from the rebels fighting the war on the ground and for failing to forge a cohesive and more representative leadership.